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Golf

No lead is safe at Augusta

Mike Weir stumbles and Jeff Maggert finds himself in the lead, but Tiger Woods and several big names lurk within range.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- While much of the action took place on Augusta National's famous back nine, a familiar character lurked on the other side of the property, making his move amid the Georgia pines Saturday afternoon as the television cameras focused elsewhere.

It was a good day to be inside the gates at the 67th Masters, and not necessarily because of the protesting down the road.

Tiger Woods made a massive move, and to follow his climb up the leaderboard you had to see it for yourself. CBS ignored the all-male membership issue and all but forgot about the game's No.1 player, who today goes for a historic third straight green jacket.

Jeff Maggert was the surprise third-round leader after a 6-under 66, which included birdies at five of the last six holes. He finished at 5-under 221, the highest 54-hole leader at the Masters since 1989.

With birdies on the final three holes Maggert blew past faltering second-round leader Mike Weir to take a two-shot advantage into today's final round.

Meanwhile, 2000 Masters winner Vijay Singh moved into contention, as did 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms.

And so did Woods, who made his climb in obscurity, shooting 6-under 66 to leap from a tie for 43rd into a tie for fifth, four shots out of the lead.

"Four back?" Woods said. "That's not inconceivable, that's for sure."

You have to like his chances, especially given whom he is chasing. Maggert, 39, has won two PGA Tour events. Eight times he has held a 54-hole lead, but he has converted just one of those into a win, 10 years ago at the Walt Disney World Classic.

Maggert's Augusta record isn't much better. His 66 was his third sub-70 score, and he has posted one top-10 finish in nine previous appearances. But he got hot on the greens in the third round, needing just 21 putts. And despite hitting into the water at the 11th and a three-putt par at the 15th, he played the back nine in 32.

"This is the position you dream about," said Maggert, who never has had the 54-hole lead in a major. "It's probably the best I've ever felt going into the last round of a golf tournament and certainly a major championship."

Maggert has some history on his side. The past 12 winners have come from the final pairing, and seven of the past 10 either led or shared the third-round lead.

But Maggert, ranked 117th in the world, will be chased by a slew of big names. Weir, who shot 75, has won twice this year and has won two of the biggest non-majors, the 2000 American Express Championship and the 2001 Tour Championship. He was at 3-under 213.

Singh (70) and Toms (70) were at 214. They were followed by Woods, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal (71) and Phil Mickelson (72), who attempts to win his first professional major in 43 tries. Even players such as Jonathyn Byrd, Jim Furyk and Len Mattiace were not out of it at par 216.

"Anyone within five or six has a chance," Singh said. "But it'll be a tough day."

Nobody thrives on that more than Woods, but he has formidable history to overcome. No one has ever won three straight Masters. No one has ever trailed by 11 after 36 holes and won. And no one ever opened the tournament with a score as high as 76 and won.

Forget the numbers. The idea seemed ludicrous when Woods stood among pine straw Saturday morning to the right of the ninth fairway, needing to get the ball into the hole in three shots to make the 36-hole cut. He punched his approach into a bunker and got up and down for par with a 3-foot putt. That got him into the final 36 on the number, tied for last.

Due to time constraints forced by the conclusion of the second round Saturday morning, players were paired in twosomes and sent off both tees. That meant Woods went with the also-rans in the second-to-last group off No.10.

So while Maggert bounced back from double bogey at the 11th and Weir made four bogeys on the back nine and Singh and Toms made two late birdies, Woods did his damage on the front side.

He had given himself a chance with three birdies on the back nine, but CBS showed only snippets after he made the turn. When Woods poured in a 40-foot birdie putt at the par-3 sixth to get to even par for the first time since the opening hole, the network didn't show it until more than five minutes later.

Perhaps it figured there was plenty of time for Tiger today.

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